Tag Archive | Ring-billed Gull

Sunday Showcase: Common Calgary Gulls

 Posted by Matthew Sim

Though we see them a lot during the summer, most of us have some difficulty in identifying these guys;  so here’s a breakdown of the common Calgary gulls.

California Gull; identified by rounded head, red and black spot on bill and greenish-yellow legs. Also note completely dark eye.

Franklin's Gull, the easiest gull in Calgary as it is, for the most part, the only one with a black head. Also note the white eye-crescents and the bright red beak.

Ring-billed Gull with its namesake ringed bill is probably the most common gull in Calgary and is often seen in parking lots.I separated from the Herring Gull by its yellow legs. Similar to California Gull, which has a darker eye.

The Herring Gull is nearly identical to the Ring-billed Gull, the one big difference though is the legs. Herring Gulls have pink legs while Ring-billed Gulls have yellow legs.

Though identifying gulls can be very difficult, hopefully this helps you next time you see a gull in Calgary.

Rescuing Wild Birds

Last time I posted about a sick Ring-billed Gull found in Fish Creek Park (see post).  I wondered if it would have been accepted at any of the local wildlife rehabilitation centres. 

Ring-billed Gulls, which were in trouble in the early twentieth century, have been increasing in numbers and expanding their breeding range ever since they were given protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty in 1916.  They lay one to four eggs (more usually two or three), and have an unusually high hatch rate of nearly 80%.  It takes three years to reach breeding age, and a typical lifespan is ten to fifteen years.  So even though they do have a high rate of loss of young birds, the population has grown to the point where they are now the most common gull in North America, and are considered by many to be a pest that needs management.

Adult Ring-billed Gull in Valleyview Park Pond, SE Calgary, 2007

Nevertheless, it turns out that two of the local wildlife rehabilitation centres that I contacted would accept an injured or sick Ring-billed Gull.  The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC), located north of the city near Madden, accepts all bird species except House Sparrows and European Starlings, non-native birds which are considered to be invasive.  The Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (CWRS), located in northwest Calgary, will accept any wildlife but discourages people from bringing in Rock Pigeons and Richardson’s Ground Squirrels.  The AIWC will send a volunteer to pick up wildlife, but you have to bring the animal in to the CWRS.

These organizations, and others like them across the province, take sick, injured, or orphaned wildlife and rehabilitate them, if possible, for return to the wild.  They typically are volunteer-based and include veterinarians and experts in wildlife rehabilitation.

If you find a bird or other animal in distress, it is important first to be able to recognize if it is really injured or orphaned, or behaving normally, and second, to be able to handle it safely.  The above organizations have excellent information about this on their websites, which is well worth reading for any birder.  If you think you might want to use these services, keep their phone numbers handy and know what to do if you find an injured bird.

I asked the AIWC if there are times in the year when they are so busy that taking common birds like Ring-billed Gulls might put too much of a strain on their resources, but they assured me that although it does get very busy sometimes, they never refuse any animal and always manage to properly look after them all.  If you find an injured bird, it is up to you if you want to pursue rescuing it.

All of the wildlife rehabilitation organizations rely heavily on volunteers, so there are plenty of opportunities to get involved if you are interested in helping.  They also have regular open houses and give presentations to inform the public about their work.  AIWC recently spoke to the Bird Studies Group of Nature Calgary.

Blackjack, a Swainson’s Hawk used by AIWC in their educational presentations, at the Bird Studies Group meeting.

Here are links to the websites of some local wildlife rehabilitation organizations.

Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation

Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society

Cochrane Ecological Institute

Medicine River Wildlife Centre

Alberta Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association

Posted by Bob Lefebvre

Finding a Sick Bird

Last week I posted a picture of a bird that was sitting on a dirt path near the Bow River in Fish Creek Park (see post).  The bird didn’t move even as we approached to within a few feet.

It was a juvenile Ring-billed Gull, and clearly there was something wrong with it.  It was either sick or injured.  Gus Yaki, who was leading the outing, picked the gull up to examine it.

The gull hardly reacted.  Needless to say, you would not be able to pick up a healthy bird in this way.  Gus said that there was no obvious injury, but the bird was so thin that he could feel the bones in its breast, where the large flight muscles should have been.  It would not be able to fly.  Clearly it was unable to feed, had been starving for quite a while, and was near death.

Gus took the opportunity to explain the cruel facts of breeding bird biology: for a typical species, only half of all eggs laid will hatch; of the nestlings that do hatch, only half survive the first month; of the remainder, only half will live to one year of age.  On average, a stable population requires that a breeding pair of adults must manage to raise two offspring to breeding age over their entire lifetime, so that the offspring replace the parents.  If the number surviving to breed was usually higher, the population would explode, and if lower, it would crash.  This means that the majority of eggs and young birds fall victim to predators, disease, or other hazards.

Gus returned the bird to the sunny spot on the path where we found it, and we left it to its fate.

No one suggested we try to save the bird, but later I wondered if any of the local wildlife rescue organizations would have taken in a common bird like a Ring-billed Gull, especially one in such poor shape.  I’ll address that in my next post.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre